COVID-19 derails Texas Democrats lobbying in Washington
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers who hightailed it to the nation’s capital in a faceoff over voting rights said Tuesday that they’re pressing on with their mission to get Democrats in Washington, D.C., to bolster their cause, even as COVID-19 spreads through their ranks.
Six of the more than 50 Texas state representatives who decamped to Washington last week have since tested positive for the coronavirus, along with two Washington staffers associated with the group.
During a news conference Tuesday, the Texas Democrats said they remain optimistic about their cause, even after their Monday night town hall on MSNBC was scaled back because of the positive test results.
“I do believe we are being very innovative and we are rising to respond to these challenges,” Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds said.
Asked about the prospects of a meeting between President Joe Biden and the Texas delegation now that several members have become infected, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was unlikely.
“There has not been a meeting planned and there hasn’t been a change to that,” she said. Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the delegation a few days before the positive cases were announced, but her office reiterated that she is fully vaccinated and didn’t have close enough contact with the legislators to require going into isolation.
State Rep. Donna Howard confirmed Tuesday that she tested positive for COVID-19. She said in a statement that she is fully vaccinated and “basically asymptomatic,” but that she is isolating to limit the spread of the virus.
“The delta variant seems to be much more contagious, even for those vaccinated, than initially thought,” Howard said. “Thankfully, I’m vaccinated and feeling well. But this variant is hitting the unvaccinated with severe illness and hospitalizations, particularly impacting those under 65. Vaccines work. Everyone, please get vaccinated and protect yourselves.”
It’s possible for people who are vaccinated to still catch COVID-19, although health experts say those “breakthrough” cases are usually mild. The latest numbers show the majority of hospitalized coronavirus patients have not been vaccinated.
One of the two Washington staffers who tested positive works in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, confirmed that a “fully vaccinated senior spokesperson in the Speaker’s Press Office tested positive for COVID after contact with members of the Texas state legislature last week.”
Hammill said the employee has had no contact with Pelosi since exposure and that much of Pelosi’s press staff was working remotely Tuesday, with the exception of those not exposed or who have recently tested negative.
A vaccinated White House staffer tested positive for the virus after interacting with the Pelosi aide, according to a White House official. The infected person has not been in close contact with Biden.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.